The Blue-Black Dragon

 

 

tar pit

 

A piercing whistle shrieked. Pounding hobnails clacked against the cobbles warning Moocher Waage of imminent arrest. In desperation, he dove beneath the fence, bled among the green briars, and rolled down slope toward the stench.

“I hate this place, but they’ll not follow.” Waage surmised, the Gritville Constabulary would triage at the curb, deciding not soil their expensive uniforms in pursuit. Moocher knew they’d avoid the sulfurous and nitrogenous fumes, so he bowed, resting hands upon his knees to catch his breath.

He gagged as he inhaled the vileness of the pit, although it brought him some measure of safety.

One last precaution, he’d climb the maple’s long dead arm above the pit. That branch could crack and drop Waage into the putrid, blue-black bile. He’d trust his luck once more, confident that the constables would never reach him. They’d soon find another vagrant to badger.

The pit seemed more active this night and his bleached perch more brittle. “Was this the best hideout?” Waage wondered as he hugged the long dead branch. The moon rose in all its fullness, reflecting sunlight across the oily surface, smooth as a black, marble slab, but then a busy gaggle of bubbles popped and hissed releasing their ghastly pungence. While their frequency and foulness prompted reconsideration, a shadow flicked in the woods and Moocher distinctly heard the snap of a dried stick. Waage shifted to scan his surroundings. The moonlit trees reached toward him like specters, but no human threat.

The branch cracked and bent a centimeter closer to the tarry abyss. Waage shimmied back toward the maple’s main trunk but the branch dipped another centimeter and then cleft almost in half dropping Waage so that his face dangled a meter above the blue-black ooze. The limb-tip split the tar, prompting a fizzle of increasingly larger packets of stench to mar the mirror’s surface.

Waage’s hands now soaked with sweat slipped along the sagging branch toward the shining tar. Larger bubbles jarred Waage out of his terror-trance with their pungent sulfur and ammonia mix.

“Ploop! Haloop! Halp! Help me!” They spoke.

Waage squelched a scream. “It must be the monster, long imprisoned below.” He breathed, “What do you want?”

“Free me.”

Waage, not one to help his fellow man seemed in no position to refuse this putrid gasp. “What’s in it for me?” he whispered.

The slime growled back at him, “I’ll give you a home. You’ll never feel hunger nor fear, nor will the constabulary find you, just help me flee.”

Waage snorted, “I can’t help myself. I don’t know what you are or how to help you. Maybe you will eat me for my troubles. Maybe you belong in the pit and should stay there.”

It spoke more clearly, “Go to Phlegm Dredger in the capitol. He’ll know your smell and you his. Tell him there is a rich deposit of hydrocarbons and gold as yet unclaimed. Ask for a substantial finder’s fee. Bring him. I’ll see he pays.”

Waage felt the branch rise and he began to slip back toward the trunk. He dismounted as a melon-sized bubble burst, releasing words. “See, I have saved you, now do as I ask and bring me help.”

Waage scampered up the slope, scanned the cobbles and made for the train yard. He climbed aboard a northbound flat-car and squeezed beneath a tarp-covered tractor to rest and wonder. “What’s this about? Will I be safe or sorry? It’s all too strange.”

Hours later, the sun rose behind the capitol. Phlegm Dredger needed little convincing and trucked Waage back to the tar-pit. Waage waited in the shadows just inside the wood. Soon enough, Dredger emerged, drove to an ATM, handing Moocher more money than he’d ever seen. Dredger dropped Waage at the bus terminal, advising that “A sea-side vacation would benefit your health.”

Dredger departed sending Moocher toward the terminal’s gift shop, where he bought a one-way ticket and a change of clothes. He washed and dressed in the bathroom, and zipped his money into his new jacket. He found a place to sleep aboard the bus. When he woke, through the window he noticed the boats, bridges and finally the sandy beaches. The bus lurched to a stop, hissed and disgorged its load.

Moocher rented a sleeping cubicle at the sea-side terminal, his new home.

Between the sea and the showers Moocher had never been so clean. He even bought a toothbrush and a bar of soap, nonetheless he felt dirty. His suspicions of evil fleshed out when he heard of riots and violence back in Gritville. Meanwhile, Phlegm Dredger had come into a fortune of hydrocarbons and gold. Dredger surmised that the pit-monster had escaped.

“What have I done?” he asked. I’ve caused more misery in Gritville and increased Dredger’s wealth. How soon will the constabulary find me and bring me back? Perhaps they’ll throw me in the pit.” Crestfallen, he walked to the ocean.

“Sharks! Sharks!” the lifeguard called. Moocher shaded his eyes to see small boy atop a surfboard unaware of the fins about him. Moocher waved, jumped and yelled to no effect. He ran into the surf to warn the child and awkwardly paddled towards him. A shark bumped into Moocher’s leg and then another nudged his ribs. He knew that the next shark would bite him and the frenzy would shred him and maybe the boy.

A shadow blocked the sun. A swooping darkness snatched Moocher and the surfer, pinching them in the clutches of an immense blue talon. It smelled familiar.

It set its load upon the beach, allowing the boy to run-off screaming, but the beast wrapped Moocher gently with a thirty kilogram chain of gold. It belched, “Thank you. This gift once bound me, sinking me in my own greed. See that you own and use this gold to help your neighbors. It shouldn’t own nor use you.” Stunned, Moocher watched the blue-black dragon vault into the sky leaving him a wealthy, wiser and better man.

 

The Blue-Black Dragon (© 2014, Donald J. Mulcare)

Tar-Pit drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) Top of page.

Branch over Dark Water drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) bottom of page.

branch over dark water

The Newton Maniac

keyboard

At summer camp— away from the smog-shrouded city—the Milky-Way glistened as diamonds flung upon their midnight-velvet backdrop. Each August, constellations fragmented as the Perseid Meteor Shower dropping stars to earth as fireflies, lightning-bugs and glow-worms. Camp’s where I learned to swim, ride horses, mangle crafts, scratch poison ivy, and engrave memories and friendships that endure even now.

PJ and I renewed our bond each June as if the school months between the summers hadn’t existed. We neither wrote nor called. In fact, I had no idea where he lived, but the unspoken link remained.

The camp director assigned us to the same cabin, named after the Lenape, a tribe that had once dominated these forests. PJ and I did everything together—meals, swimming, crafts and team sports. After supper, we shared the mess hall piano to play Heart and Soul. My left hand moved like a spider to key the bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba. PJ’s right hand added the, tink, tink, tink, datink, datink. We brooked no variation, because this was our song.

Between supper, the piano and the bugler’s mournful taps, our nighttime entertainment occasionally included ghost stories, none more frightening than those told by a Monsignor who visited from a nearby parish. He strolled about as the sun set—wearing his cassock decorated with purple buttons, piping and sash—greeting the boys from his town, but he smiled at all as we gathered under the stars in the middle of the baseball diamond.

The counselors brought him a wooden chair and we campers sat cross-legged before him, swatting mosquitoes until the Monsignor redirected the voice that had preached thousands of sermons, to utter tales of horror.

“Boys,” he’d intoned and looked about, “don’t ever go into the woods after dark. I’m telling you for your own good because there is a maniac running among the trees; it’s stronger than a thousand bulls, and has killed many over the years. I wouldn’t want you to join that number. I’d grieve, even if they ever found your body, to vest in black for your funeral.”

The Monsignor snatched our attention as he detailed the mangled corpses flung by the merciless, Newton Maniac. A shiver rattled my ribs as the goose bumps popped where sweat had just glistened on my arms. The whites of PJ’s eyes grew brighter as he bit his lower lip.

The Monsignor cupped his hand to his ear. “Can you hear the scream? Is that wailing in the forest, the Maniac, his most recent victim or a victim’s ghost?” He turned his head following the piercing shriek as it traveled from west to east.

We could trace the inhuman moan, rising in pitch, crossing the woods beyond our cabins. My grandpa often described the banshee’s screech. My dad said it was an old-country myth, but this scream was real and rushing at us. My knees knocked until I hugged them still. The night air retained enough heat to comfort us, so why my chill, I asked as the unearthly screaming tracked among the darkened hardwood groves. My lips moved in desperate prayers, but as the sound faded to the east, my heart-beat slowed back to normal.

Lest we grow complacent, the Monsignor reminded us, “The Newton Maniac had killed an entire family just a few days ago. The children were about your age.”

I glanced about at nodding heads and quivering lips. Even Jack, our counselor seemed deeply concerned. Later, as we prepared for bed, Jack confirmed the existence of the Newton Maniac, the horror of the recent deaths and our need to stay clear of the woods. He warned we’d best behave or the Maniac would come for us. PJ and I agreed we’d never hike through the woods even in broad daylight lest the Maniac count us among its victims. Nightly visits to the latrines required the company of PJ, our flashlight and our baseball bats should the Maniac leap from the dark.

On one of the last nights of that summer season, campers assigned to the Iroquois, banged on the walls of the Lenape’s cabin screaming, “The Newton Maniac’s coming through the woods. You’d better run.”

We of the Lenape cabin raised our baseball bats, rushed into the dark woods shouting our war cry, to engage the Maniac in battle.

The Iroquois campers stopped and laughed, “You Lenape are suckers!”

It was a foolish thing to say to a tribe, armed and ready to shed blood. Again, the scream of the Newton Maniac pierced the night, breaking the stalemate. The Iroquois campers scampered for safety. We of the Lenape ran to engage the Maniac, now approaching at a tremendous speed. We of the Lenape raised our bats, only to see the Maniac whiz by us into the night. We had prevailed, not over the Maniac, but over our fears and the taunts of the Iroquois. We marched back singing our victory chant, ignoring the Iroquois.

The Monsignor told no lie. A Newton Maniac sped, screaming among the trees. It had killed, usually at railway crossings. The Monsignor for dramatic effect never identified the Maniac as a train in the service of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, nor mention that the deceased had neglected crossing signals and the Maniac’s warning call before the engine’s impact launched them and their shattered vehicles into the waiting branches.

History has consumed The Newton Maniac, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the Monsignor, the camp and our final season before high school.

In our last minutes together, PJ and I warmed the piano bench for one more Heart and Soul. We left in silence so that final chord would always vibrate within us. I wonder now, how PJ, the Lenape and other campers fared over the decades. As I recalled those times and friends, I wished them well, especially, PJ, wherever he is.

If you’re out there PJ, I hope you remember Heart and Soul. Do you still feel the vibration?

 

Try this link for a musical accompaniment: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibfJsyx6N_U

Drawing by Nancy Ann Mulcare (© 2014 Nancy Ann Mulcare)

The Newton Maniac (© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

A day in the life of a hammer.

Raised beds Fall 2013 006Here he comes, will he find me under all this junk? I had a restful night, but I knew it had to end. Pound, pound, pound, all day yesterday, today and tomorrow. I hope he knows what he’s doing. My claw end is all chaffed from nail-pulling. I hate the taste of those galvanized ten-inch nails. All right, he found me and I’m back in the tool box. Those other tools must have missed me, except of course for that aluminum level. Aluminum must be the poorest excuse for a metal that I know. Those tools are so light and shiny. They don’t rust, but boy do they get scratched and bent. I hate to tell the boss, but that level isn’t on the level. It’s always throwing off the measurements by a degree. Eventually that adds up.

Here’s the first nail of the day. Great, it’s steel-tough, like me. I can drive it with two whacks. There it goes, buried in the wood for years. Some archeologist will find it centuries from now and wonder, “How did they used to insert these fasteners into the wood fibers?” By then they’ll be able to get the nails to talk. “I was pounded by a high carbon steel professional grade carpenters hammer, made in the USA.” I wonder, will there still be a USA?

Groundhog mayday

winter

The groundhog stared at the radio as the reporter excitedly updated the news, “The posse has him cornered in a line shack west of Punxsutawney. They expect to call in a drone strike any minute now. We’ve had enough of this winter, that over-sized rat has gone too far this time, why couldn’t he have just stayed in his hole and let the spring come early?”

Phil sniveled, “They’re going to shoot the messenger because they can accept the fact that climate change is the result of their own stupid excesses. Sure, they burn fossil fuels and cut down the trees, what do they expect? They want a scapegoat, so they picked me to pin their sins on.”

He lifted a trap door and dropped through the floor to his tunnel without bothering to turn off the radio. He was a quarter mile behind the encircling humans, watching when the first drone strike incinerated the line shack. “Go ahead, dummies,” he chuckled, “add some more carbon dioxide to the ozone layer. It will come back to haunt you. Meanwhile, I’ll find another abandoned house to keep me warm for the rest of this interminable winter.”

The Wicked Witch and the Windmill Eating Troll

The miller’s wagon packed with tools, canvas, gears, shafts and heavy grinding stones creaked into the square before the Inn. After a tankard of Spencer Ale and a quorum of stuffed quahogs he walked about.  By day’s end, he knew in his heart that Skyblue offered the best hill upon which to set the gears and the sails that would convert the wind into blessings.The Skyblue folks delighted in the prospect although the grumblers of the Nimby Clan griped and muttered. Nevertheless Skyblue agreed to let the miller build and hoped that soon the whispering, dancing mill-sails would catch the breezes, turn its shaft, gears and stones to grind grain to the finest flour. The town glowed with festive expectation.

In the far off nether reaches, the Wicked Witch heard the Nimby Clan’s grumbling and the people’s glee. She pointed her twisted, green finger at her murky mirror where she viewed the miller’s plans. “This would never do,” she cackled, “for if wind is used the Skyblue folks would no longer buy the bones, blood and breath of long dead dragons to burn in their machines.” She could no longer suck the wealth from the town’s folk, and foul their air and water.

She dispatched her flying monkeys, Nazgûls and her fiendish ambassador, the troll called Nocebo to infect the brains of the humans so they would fear the windmills and talk nonsense against them.  She took special delight in the Nimby Clan, who of course didn’t mind that the Wicked Witch turned tap water to flame, killed lakes, destroyed agriculture and increased earthquakes a hundred fold as she extracted sludge and slime from dragon’s graves, as long as it happened not in my back yard, at least not yet.

Nocebo gathered toads, toadstools and snakes for use in Nocebo cookies, but the children proved too well informed. They actually liked the windmill and windmill cookies, but dreaded the evil ambassador and Nocebo cookies. Since the children proved too wise, Nocebo turned to the Nimby Clan with pitchers of Nocebo Sangria. In no time, the very mention of the word “windmill” evoked symptoms of stress in the Nimby Clan. Their hands twitched with the urge to write dozens of complaint letters every day, even though the windmill had yet to operate.

With increasing boldness, the now enchanted Nimby Clan predicted that the windmill’s sails would snare their beloved vampire bats, banshees and pterodactyls. Nevertheless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Vampire Bats, Banshees and Pterodactyls logged no injuries to these endangering species gliding above Skyblue.

The Nimbys claimed that since this windmill was larger than others, it would make more noise. Instead it made less noise than its smaller neighbors. They preached that real estate prices would drop in their neighborhood, but new houses have started as did bidding wars on existing homes.

The Nimbys claimed that in winter the sails would fling daggers of ice, far and wide, slicing town’s folks to the quick. This too has never happened. They said the turning sails would cast spells upon the carters and that their oxen would run amuck. No vehicular accidents ever happened because of the windmill. They spread fear that the sounds of grinding stones would quake the earth and summon demons from the depths to enchant the students at their lessons. The kids still love he windmills and windmill cookies and have excelled in school. The other schools want their own windmills.

Nocebo urged the windmill workers to quit their jobs or their teeth and eyes would fall out and they would soon go mad, but none of these evils befell them. Nocebo hired the scribes, Ditto and Rehash to write hundreds of letter against the windmill. “Look.” Nocebo said, “The households have suffered hundreds of health disorders caused by the windmill, we must tear it down.”

But the miller asked, “Where are the medical records that demonstrate injury?”

Nocebo screamed, “You can’t invade the privacy of these complainants or even know their true number, pre-existing conditions or vested interests.”

The miller and his many workers and thousands of townspeople who benefited from the windmill rose against Nocebo’s fear tactics, while those who had drunk Nocebo Sangria marched like zombies toward the windmill, chanting and grinding their teeth.

Then out of the night rode the heroine Jeannine the Brave, waving the banner of sanity. She sprayed the poisoned Nimby throng with the antidote to Nocebo Sangria. The Nimbys reeled in confusion and finally came to their senses.

They slowly admitted, “We are not victims of the windmill, but of the Wicked Witch and her ambassador Nocebo.  Hurray for Jeannine the Brave! Let her look over our health for many years to come.”

He wore an old scarf

The subway door opened at Queens Plaza and there he sat on the platform against the stairs. He wore an old scarf, a filthy coat and a soiled knit hat. He raised his head and looked through the open door. Our eyes met. I was afraid he would stand and approach me, but he looked at the bottle in the brown paper bag in his right hand, raised it and slugged down a mouthful of Wild Irish Rose. The cheap wine spilled out of the corners of his mouth, running between the cakes of dirt, the strands of beard and down his neck soaking into his scarf.

The doors of the subway car slid together and the train lurched forward. I caught a last glimpse of him through the window but soon the train entered the blackness of the tunnel. I gazed at the cardboard posters along the inside wall of the subway car. One of these advertisements featured a young man with rosy cheeks, a bright smile and woolen coat and dapper scarf. He toasted the passengers with an uplifted bottle of Wild Irish Rose.

(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

Snowstorm Shopping at the Super Store

winter

Eight inches above the floor tiles, four-year old Amy sprawled belly down on the shelf beneath her mother’s shopping cart, arms extended, sky-diver style. Ecstasy etched about her lips, her cheeks and widened eyes. The world coursed by at amazing velocities as mother cruised the aisles, but then she stopped. We all stopped.

The thirty-month old Josh, enthroned high above in the rumble seat, reached for the sardines, “Fish mommy: shiny fish.” His mother smiled, re-shelved the can, but wouldn’t noticed Josh’s previously captured tins of octopus tentacles in olive oil until she unpacked them at check-out counter. We waited still.

A lonely, elderly woman, while pondering her shopping list pushed her cart askew, barricaded the aisle. No one spoke. We waited for her trance to pass and the flow of carts to resume. Her confusion came easily. The aisles dedicated to exotic foods, cosmopolitan produce, plantains, name blanco, jicoma, yampi, cherimoya, and yucca. Polyglot labels beckoned customers of every nation, persuasion, age, taste and financial circumstances to the urban supermarket. Diversity in costumes, language, heritage and continent of origin rivaled the United Nations, especially on the weekend when the latest discount coupons reached their activation date and new, on-sales items rotated into the range of affordability. Luxuries became necessities. Dreams of crema de malanga distracted me.

Behind me, a loudly cursing, woman, her faded black t-shirt branded with the word “Nemesis” goaded her Market-Scooter into the clog of shopping carts. I scanned the commotion. The Scooter Jockey rode herd on two companions. The older woman breathed with the assistance of an oxygen generator. The younger, I call her Luna, wiped tears from her eyes.

Luna’s face round and as white as the moon; her sunken eyes: dark craters. The edges of her mouth turned downward in despair, for she was trapped in an orbit around her Nemesis, with no hope of escape. The oxygen-indebted woman stood near Luna and their Nemesis. Her dull eyes stared without awareness. Luna led her through the aisles, occasionally bending or stretching to pick unreachable groceries from the shelves. Each unkempt member of the trio exhibited life’s scars. None smiled.

Nemesis shoved aside Luna’s cart, with no shortage of expletives, ripping her to shreds with every word. Nemesis broke through the pack of waiting shoppers, her Market-Scooter clipping carts with no word of apology. Now behind her, I noticed the back of her head, especially the baldness of her dome, circumscribed by randomly oriented hair: grey rooted inches, blackening before achieving their split ends. Luna approached from behind. I noticed and inquired, “How are you today?”

Luna paused, brightened in surprise, concealing her tears she answered cautiously, “I’m OK.”

“Looks like more snow.”

She nodded, fearing to chat. What would Nemesis say? Luna reached out with her gaze. Then her brows dropped. Her pained expression returned as she resigned herself and pushed ahead. The woman with the oxygen generator plodded behind Luna. We would meet again.

I thought as I consulted my shopping list that Luna and Company were somehow connected. Were they family members or inmates of the same facility? Was it any of my business? Are we not our sister’s keeper? What could I do anyway?

I approached the end of that aisle in time to see the scooter-powered Nemesis crash into a skid stacked with cases of canned food. A case of diced tomatoes bled out cans between the cart wheels and the shoppers’ feet, rolling in every direction. Nemesis cursed the young shelf stacker and powered her vehicle denting and scattering a half dozen doomed red containers before she turned into the pasta aisle. I skirted the skid fragments and skipped the pasta as an assistant manager approached with a bucket and broom.

As I turned into the paper products section, Nemesis swiftly exited. In her scooter’s wake Luna and I came face to face. I raised my eyebrows in greeting. For the first time I saw her smile. While it rejuvenated Luna’s eyes, cheeks and brow, it revealed the gaps in her teeth: some broken, others missing. She quickly tensed, sealed her lips, turned her face away. She moved beyond our meeting place. The woman with the oxygen generator inched along behind.

My check-out moved quickly. It had begun to snow again. As I pushed my grocery cart through the slush, the roar of a damaged muffler approached from the rear. I shifted my gaze toward the battered pick-up with its expired inspection sticker. Nemesis drove no differently than she piloted the Market-Scooter. Her attitude demanded and I gave a wide birth. She skidded behind and then beyond me. Luna held closed the passenger’s door. She had turned and looked in my direction as the truck moved beside me. She then glanced back. Her eyes pleaded for rescue. The pick-up passed. I could see the bags of groceries and their contents scattered in the truck bed, blowing in the snow laden gusts. The pick-up reached the end of the parking lot, ignored a stop sign and turned left, disappearing into oncoming traffic.

Amy now bundled against the weather held a balloon in her left hand and with her right helped her mother push the supermarket cart loaded with the snow-suited Josh and groceries. She asked, “Mommy, why does Josh get to keep a can of octopus? What do I get?”

Her mother smiled, “Didn’t you get to ride under the cart and you have a balloon?”

“But Josh rode in the seat and he has a balloon too.”

“Next time you can ride in the seat.”

“No, that’s for babies. I want to ride under the cart again.”

“Well Amy, you did get something that Josh didn’t.”

Josh, clutching his can of octopus tentacles in olive oil exclaimed, “Put oc-pus fish tank.”

Amy laughed, “Mommy really, can we let the octopus out of his can and put him in the fish tank? That will be so much fun.”

Don Mulcare (dmulcare.wordpress.com)

(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

alcohol ink representation (© 2013 NancyAnn Mulcare)